Central African Republic Sets Election Date as Violence ContinuesNovember 11, 2015 in Central Africa Republic
In a presidential decree, which was published on Tuesday, the Central African Republic (CAR) set legislative and presidential elections for 27 December. According to the decree, the polls will be preceded by a constitutional referendum, which will take place on 13 December. If required, a second round of voting will take place on 31 January 2016.
Some analysts have warned that premature elections could do more harm then good. The international community however has continued to press for elections to be held by the end of this year in order to replace the current interim authority, which has been plagued by internal fighting. On Tuesday, a diplomat disclosed that while the mandate of the interim authorities is due to expire next month, a regional summit later this month is expected to renew it through February in order to cover the election period.
While the interim government has attempted several times to hold elections in a bid to fully transition the country back to democratic rule, ongoing violence has forced officials to postpone the election date. With no current end in site to the latest wave of violence, which erupted in September, many are questioning whether elections will be held this year.
A United Nations official and an aid worker have reported that clashes between fighters in the CAR killed at least three people and wounded five others on Monday. Sources have reported that the latest fighting centred in and around the town of Bambari, which for the last year much of it has been controlled by the Union for Peace in Central Africa (UPC), which is a faction of the former Seleka rebel alliance. According to a UN official, “two people were killed during the fighting in a village 10 kilometres (6 miles) away (from Bambari) and one other died of his injuries.” A spokesman for the UPC has disclosed that the dead were members of the faction. Witnesses have since reported that their deaths triggered more widespread violence in Bambari, with gunmen opening fire in the town, burning houses and sending hundreds of people running for cover. The sound of gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades could be heard across the town. Eyewitnesses further disclosed that anti-balaka forces descended into Bambari on foot, opening fire as UPC fighters roamed the streets on motorbikes while UN peacekeepers attempted to restore calm. Earlier in the day, dozens of Muslims had marched through the town, protesting against the proposed rearmament of the country’s fractured armed forces, which many distrust.
According to UN figures, the successive waves of fighting in the CAR have forced at least 360,000 people form their homes across the country, with up to 40,000 displaced in Bambari alone. Many in Bambari have found temporary shelter near churches, in disused factories or near the bases of the UN MINUSCA peacekeeping force. Speaking about the situation in Bambari, Nicolas Peissel, field coordinator for medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Ouaka province, has stated that “this is the worst violence we have seen in Bambari since the end of September.” On Friday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported that it is deeply concerned by the worsening violence in the CAR, adding that since the end of September, dozens of people have been killed and hundreds more wounded in the capital Bangui. The ICRC has urged all parties to the conflict to spare civilians, their schools, houses and medial facilities.
On Tuesday, following a clash with Muslim Seleka rebels, a UN peacekeeper was killed. According to a UN spokesman, the soldier from the MINUSCA force was found dead in Batangafo, which is located north of Bangui. A statement released by spokesman Stephane Dujarric has indicated that “following an outbreak of violence between armed anti-Balaka and ex-Seleka elements at an internally displaced persons camp in Batangafo, ex-Seleka elements confronted MINUSCA troops at a nearby MINUSCA checkpoint,” adding that “during the incident, one peacekeeper went missing and was subsequently found dead.” A UN official has disclosed that the peacekeeper was from Cameroon. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the killing and has called for swift action in order to bring the perpetrators to justice.
The latest attack comes as the UN mission is trying to bolster security across the country ahead of elections, which are due to take place on 27 December and which are shaping up as a test of the country’s progress in its political transition. It also comes as France has announced that it will resume withdrawing its troops from the CAR following the elections.
On Tuesday, a UN official announced that the UN is sending hundreds of additional peacekeepers and its first drones to the CAR in a bid to bolster security ahead of next month’s elections. The new deployments may be in place for a planned upcoming visit by Pope Francis to the CAR at the end of this month, however the Vatican has already warned that it may be forced to cancel the trip due to ongoing security concerns.
Speaking to reporters, the UN official disclosed that Egypt will deploy a battalion of 750 troops while 140 police officers will be sent by Mauritania. The official further indicated that two companies of peacekeepers serving in West Africa may be temporarily sent to the CAR in order to bolster security after clashes led to the cancellation of the first round of voting in October. The new deployments will effectively boost the strength of the current 12,000-strong UN peacekeeping MINUSCA mission by about 1,140 troops.
MINUSCA officials are also planning to deploy its first surveillance drones over Bangui in order to better track potential trouble spots in the capital. The UN has also disclosed that they have been in talks with the Vatican about security in the country, with one official indicting that “the mission plans to have reinforcements to boost security for the elections. Some reinforcements should be in theatre before the pope’s visit.”
Separately, the head of the UN mission has requested the UN Security Council to allow purchases of weapons and equipment for the country’s police and gendarmes. The CAR has been under an international arms embargo since December 2013. Furthermore, UN officials have warned former presidents Francois Bozize, who is now in exile in Uganda, and Michel Djotodia, who lives in Benin, against meddling in the upcoming elections.
Meanwhile French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced on Tuesday that France will resume withdrawing its troops from the CAR after elections take place in December.
Speaking on the sidelines of a security forum in Senegal, Le Drian told reporters that a resent surge in violence had forced France to put its withdrawal plans on hold. He further disclosed that “we decided to stop the process of winding down Sangaris to allow our force to support MINUSCA during the electoral period. Then it will be up to the new authority to decide how to organize its own army.”
France began withdrawing some of its troops, who numbered around 2,000 at the peak of the mission known as Sangaris, earlier this year. The UN mission in the CAR however has struggled to restore and maintain order.
Paris deployed soldiers to its former colony in late 2013 in an attempt to stem the bloodshed, which began after the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power earlier in the year provoking a backlash from Christian anti-balaka militias. Since late September, militia violence and inter-religious reprisal attacks have killed around ninety people in the capital Bangui. French troops have been instrumental to containing the situation. Last month, French troops helped halt a column of Seleka fighters, which was advancing on Bangui.